My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The horsey phase is, I think, a phase that so many people go through in their life. It is a phase that I went through and that a part of me remains lost in, despite not being near a horse for too long. I will be eternally addicted to the rhythm of tack-cleaning, the thick, satsified exhaustion of a day in the saddle and the moment when the two of you, a horse and a rider, become one and somehow in that oneness become more than you ever thought you could be.
I first made my acquaintance with Follyfoot back in the 90s where, surrounded by shellsuits and dodgy hairdos, I fell in love. I fell in love with a lot of equine literature at that point and there are loves that have endured: Ruth Hollis; (Oh how I still love you KM Peyton); and Follyfoot too, has endured. This bound copy of four stories is held together by tape and the pages are ripped, and it will endure, I think, for some time yet.
The stories in this compilation are all available individually: Follyfoot, Dora at Follyfoot, The Horses of Follyfoot and Stranger at Follyfoot. There is another book in the series not included in this volume: Cobbler’s Dream. All of the titles pop up fairly regularly in my experience in second hand book shops and, depending on the edition, they’re also available very cheaply online.
The Follyfoot books are deliciously good. Reading this compilation of the four stories, reading them all together in one heady rush of horses and common sense and sunlit holidays, is something akin to an almost spiritual experience. Let me clarify that for a second: there is something so complex about us when we talk about children and their loves, we mock them, so easily, for overtly investing emotionally in bands, or films, or celebrities. Horse books are that feverish space of investment for so many individuals; that first, wild realisation of a space in the world that can fit to the shape of you. Horses are a first love, they are empathy and hope and love made flesh, and horse stories – the good ones, the too-sharp oness – they catch that. They know that.
Follyfoot Farm is a farm for horses on the edge of society; abandoned and neglected and too old for people to cope with any more. It is a space where the scraps of the world find their whole. Steve, Dora, Callie, Slugger, Anna, The Colonel, Ron. All of them complex, fascinating characters written in such simple, direct style that somehow it masks the worlds underneath their souls. A simple book, I think, is not one that lacks complexities. Dickens’ prose is so bluntly lovely. Lines sink into me: “the midge-misted evening” and others make me fall in love with Dickens’ painterly skill: “Outside, a touch of night frost had left the lawn sparkling with a thousand crystals. Perfect day to ride. She began to invent possible excuses for not going to school.”
I love this series. I love what it means to me, the way it captures a part of me every time, but I love how serious it is, how respectful it is of the topic. Horses die, people die but the world keeps turning, and the sun keeps rising above the eternal symbol of hope that is Follyfoot. All of that, all of that, in these pages that talk about broken stirrup leathers and donkey’s and foals. But that’s the thing, I think, about the good horse story. It gets, somehow, that it’s not actually about the horses at all.